Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Why we're born

Ready to dive back in to the study of the story of Joseph?
Let's go!
We mentioned last time that Joseph was seventeen, and we noted his illustrious dad and grand-dads. There's other things that we should notice here, concerning his family....

Ever hear the word dysfunctional? It's a popular word today, and gets tossed around by psychologists, talking heads, self-help authors, and more. It conveys a meaning of not working correctly, not within the bounds of what we consider normal.
Well, Joseph definitely grew up in a dysfunctional family: Jacob had FOUR wives; he had eleven sons among those four moms; only one was a full brother to Joseph (Benjamin, the youngest).
Think there could be trouble brewing?
You're right!
On top of all those competing relationships, Joseph was his dad's favorite son, "the son of his old age." Joseph was the first son by Rachel, the woman Jacob always loved. Remember the story of Rachel and Leah, back when we studied women of the Bible? Jacob contracted with Rachel's dad to marry her; he worked for seven years to have that privilege -- and then Laban tricked him into marrying her sister, Leah. So, Jacob worked seven more years to get Rachel, the woman he'd fallen in love with.
So, Joseph was Jacob's son by Rachel, and he was his dad's favorite.
And all of his brothers knew it. This is not rocket science or neurosurgery; we can look at this and SEE that it's a disaster just waiting to happen!

One of our take-aways for today is this: Our backgrounds are no impediment to our service for the Lord. Our histories are not an obstacle for Him.

Let's look at Joseph.....he came from a family that in many ways was "out of the bounds of normal" when it came to relationships. It was not a neat, clean, one man-one woman family. Jealousy, competition, distrust, and envy were the "normal" here. It was not a happy, close-knit family, but God chose Joseph and used him for His glory.
Let's look at ourselves....not many of us come from perfect families, either. Actually, I've come to realize that there is no such thing! We may look from the outside and think we see close relationships and harmony, but the opposite may be the reality. The world is a messed up kind of place, and sometimes our families are messed up too. Why? Because the human heart is the most messed up of all. Our Bible tells us the truth about the human condition: the Bible says we are all sinners; it says we are all separated from God and dead in our sins; it says we are unable to help ourselves.

See how relevant the gospel is to our world today? It's not like the self help books that say, "You're OK just like you are." Or, "just try harder and you will end up OK." The gospel says:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)
Ever remember what comes right before that? The last part of verse 22 is:
There is no difference between Jew and Gentile.....
Oh boy.
No difference between Jew and Gentile; or rich and poor; or religious and pagan; or young and old; or criminal and clergy...... we are all in the same boat. We are all sinners. Broken, messed up people. Some of us know this, and some don't.
But.......why was I born? Why were any of us born?
Joseph's story is going to help us.
If you can relate to Joseph, this story is for you.
Are you from a broken, dysfunctional home? This story is for you.
Do you have trouble getting along with your siblings? This story is for you.
If your friends lied to you, or if you have done jail time, this story is for you, too.
If your family and friends don't understand you, this story is for you.

We're going to see that Joseph's story is just like ours -- it's a story of God unfolding and revealing His will a little at a time, until suddenly it's clear why we are here!
So, how did God's will unfold for Joseph? At the beginning of what we have divided into the 37th chapter of Genesis, Joseph is a shepherd along with his brothers in Canaan. By the end of the chapter he's a slave in Egypt! Wow! That HAS TO, GOTTA BE, DEFINITELY IS a turn in the wrong direction, don'cha think?
Psssst! Nope!
God has plans for Joseph......and he has to be in Egypt for those plans to be completed.
Let's see the steps in the timeline....
The seventeen-year old is a shepherd along with his brothers. But different from his brothers, he has a firmly held set of values. Look at this portion of verse 2:
.....his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
We can see that Joseph reported to his dad the things that he saw and heard. Tattle-tale? Maybe. A help to his dad, when some of his sons were not behaving well or honestly? Yup.
Also, he was marked as special at an early age.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
This coat, or robe, has been hotly debated at times. Some say "many colors" and others say it was probably embroidered richly, and may have had long sleeves, like the sort of robe a son of a king might wear. Another topic of debate is whether or not Jacob was doing the right thing by giving this rich gift to his favorite son, and kind of celebrating his favoritism. But as a parent, I'm going to be the first one to admit that kids don't come with instruction books, so we make mistakes!
So when Joseph wears the robe, the robe sort of shouts, "My dad thinks I'm special!" And he also can't work in the fields very easily with those long sleeves.....

All in all, we have a simmering pot of meanness here, in the hearts of his brothers, and we'll see how things go tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Verses that inspire

Sometimes as we read our Bibles and ask the Spirit to guide us, we have an experience that is like finding a gate that is unlocked (we thought it was locked) and putting our hand on it, pushing it open and walking through.....

Anyone nodding their head here?

Recently someone asked me to pray with them. They were facing what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, and running out of strength. As I prayed, my Bible opened to the prophet Zechariah, and the Lord's words about the city of Jerusalem.
And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will be its glory within.’ (Zechariah 2:5)
I hope I won't be sacrilegious, but what if we take His words for Jerusalem, and apply them to ourselves, as believers, and as vessels in which the Lord lives each and every day?
Let's apply it to ourselves as women of God:

And I myself will be a wall of fire around her, declares the Lord, and I will be her glory within.

Obviously, I've changed the text, so I'm not highlighting it the way I usually do our verses.
But what an eye-opener!
What a blessing!
In other passages, He has promised to guard and protect us, and to live within us. Paul said that we don't glory in anything we've done, but only in what Christ does.
So I think those changes are OK.
And it really brings it home....makes a mental picture of the loving protection of God much more vivid.

Go your way today, child of God! There is a wall of fire around you to protect you! And God is your glory, within you!

Monday, July 16, 2018

We're here...... why?

Have we figured out why God put us on planet earth? All joking aside, that's an important thing to think about.
Our birth date is the day that we join billions of other peeps living on this beautiful creation of almighty God. The day that we figure out "why we were born" is another super important day....
In other words, what is our purpose here?
What was each one of us born to do?
Kinda deep question, huh?
Maybe you've thought about it, and you feel you were born to be a mom or dad (yes, some of the guys look here sometimes!).
Maybe one of us feels she was born to be a Sunday school teacher.
Maybe born to help the homeless.
Maybe born to teach a second language to new citizens.
It's an interesting question, and it boils down to this: what does God want us to do, with these lives that He has blessed us with?

Many people claim Proverbs 3:5-6 as their own..... they promise that if we will trust in the Lord, He will make our way straight, or direct our paths, according to which translation you read:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart    and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him,    and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Many of us have personal knowledge of how God can guide us. Many of us have experienced His guiding hand and His working in our lives.... He can put us exactly where we need to be. He can arrange all of the details years in advance! He can open doors that seem shut tightly, and He can move any obstacles in our path.
He can even take our choices and fit them into His plan, so that we end up at the right place, and at the right time. Along the way, He can take our mistakes and the mistakes of others, and bring good out of them -- He can even take tragedy and use it both for our own good, and for His glory, too.

Yes, we serve an awesome God!
That's why this verse is lived out in believers' lives:
In their hearts humans plan their course,    but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
Some people find their "calling" early. Some people find it later in life. It's a fact that often other people can see it before we do.  And sometimes, it's our circumstances that reveal it to us.
So, back to our story.....this is the tale of Joseph, son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham, and Genesis introduces him to us like this:

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.This is the account of Jacob’s family line.Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. (Genesis 37:1-2)

OK, so first we see that Joseph is a teenager. Remember back when you were a teenager? Perhaps you worked in a family business, too, as Joseph did.  And I bet (like we said before) that if we'd asked Joseph about his own future, he would not have had a clue! He might have said, "Well, I'm going to be a shepherd and keep flocks of animals like my dad, granddad, and great-granddad."  After all, staying in the family business is not a bad thing..... he has not yet "discovered" what God's will for his life will be. Or, should we say, God's will has not yet discovered him -- sometimes we don't find God's will; sometimes it finds us!
Yes, God actually does have a blueprint for our lives. He has a plan. A purpose. But I haven't heard yet of any way that we can get a copy of it.....God's will is revealed to us a little bit at a time.

When you were little, did you make a shoebox movie palace? Let me explain.....we used to take a long piece of paper and roll it in from both sides, after we'd decorated with our crayons. It became a scroll, then, and we made slits on both sides of the box to allow the paper to pass through. As we unrolled the scroll from one side, and rolled it up on the other, a little story could be seen:

Well, that is kinda like how God's will is revealed to us.

And that is how it was revealed to Joseph....right now he is Jacob's favorite son. (Don't look now, but that is going to cause some major problems soon.)
He will be betrayed and sold into slavery.
He will end up being purchased by Potiphar and earn his trust, becoming his "right-hand-man."
Then he will be falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, and be thrown in jail.
He'll meet two people in jail who will swear to help him, but won't.
Then he will stand before Pharaoh and interpret Pharaoh's dream.
He'll become Pharaoh's "right-hand-man" then, and be prime minister.
Then his brothers will come to Egypt and not recognize him, but he will give them a home.

What a roller coaster!
I have a feeling there's a lot for us to learn here.....hope you will join me this week.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday slowdown

It's so much fun teaching children to sing (and dance) in praise to our Lord. This week's song is an exuberant song that teaches kids that Jesus is with us, and in us, in all that we do.

Have some fun today! Sing with me!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Amazing (conclusion)

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.This is the account of Jacob’s family line.Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, (Genesis 37:1-2a)

Howdy! We've just been introduced to our new friend, Joseph.
He's a teenager, working in the family business. Let's ask him about his career plans..... "I'm going to be a shepherd like my dad, my granddad, and my great-granddad. After all, they did very well, and had huge flocks and herds, and God blessed them abundantly."
All very true.
If we were to pull up Ancestry on our smart phones that we pulled out from under our robes, we would see that Joseph has a wonderful heritage....
He inherited dignity from Abraham, purity from Isaac, cleverness and tenacity from his dad Jacob, and probably got his attractiveness, humor, and management skills from his mom's side of the family.
So, we can see that God had been preparing the way for Joseph long before he was born, even though he had no idea about his calling in life.

Joseph is a young man from a totally dysfunctional family. We can read in Genesis of parental favoritism, teenage naivete, schemes and intrigue, murder, immorality and prostitution, and more. But no matter what happens to Joseph, we will see him always land on his feet!
Betrayed, he ends up in Egypt.
Throw him in prison, and he ends up "running the joint."
When you travel to Egypt, you discover that he is the prime minister.
Try to trick him, and he sees through it -- and forgives you.
Joseph will become a key link in the chain of thousands of years, that will bring the Messiah to earth.

In the next few weeks, we will try to ignore the fact that we know what the ending of the story will be. We will try to experience our study as Joseph experienced isn't easy for any of us, and sometimes can be quite difficult! 
We will, just as Joseph did, learn to see the work of God in even the small things of life, and we'll learn that Christ is the power to make our lives worthwhile. He lives within us, so He, Himself, is the power that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and gives us the peace to handle this bumpy ride!

We may have a dysfunctional family, too. Like Joseph, we can be proof that you can come from a crazy, mixed up family and still do amazing things for God! Life is unpredictable, but as we start our study, let's keep one thing in mind: Joseph's God is our God, too. We need a big God; we need a strong God; we need a compassionate, all-knowing God -- and we have one!

Can't wait for our studies next week!
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Amazing how the old becomes new again

We are going to be studying an old, familiar story for the next few weeks. The story of the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob.
It's so familiar. We know it pretty much by heart, right? Does it seem kind of ho-hum? I'd like to hope that we are soon going to be more excited about his story -- even though we know how the story ends!

I know that no matter how hard we try, it's hard to read and study this as the amazing (and unpredictable) adventure that it was to Joseph, as he lived it. Since we know the ending, it's hard to say, "Wow, that was unexpected!"
But you see, Joseph had no clue.
When he was a teen, tending the flocks with his jealous brothers, he had no idea how much trouble his beautiful many-colored coat, the gift from his doting father, would cause for him.
When he was in the dusty, dirty pit where they threw him, he had no clue that they would sell him into slavery.
Imagine listening to the negotiations going on above you, and realizing that your siblings were selling you as a slave!
How much did he know about his future when he was sold into the household of Potiphar? Not one thing.
Did he have a view into his future when Potiphar's wife accused him falsely? Nope. Just knew he was innocent!
And what about the lengthy imprisonment? Did he know what was going to happen next? No, he was asking others to intercede for him when they got out.
When he did gain his freedom, did he know God's purposes for elevating him to the prime minister's job in Egypt? He didn't see it all.....not until his family came to him for help.

How much do we know for certain about our own futures? What do we know for sure about the coming week? We know what our plans are, but those can change. We have errands to run, people to see, events or classes to attend, bills to pay, and decisions that must be made. But all of those are relying on circumstances that are actually beyond our control.
Life is short.
Life is fragile.
Nobody but God knows what tomorrow may bring. I've heard it said that "life can change with one phone call." And it's true.
I think we will get more out of Joseph's story, and it will be more engaging, if we read it the way that he lived it. If we read it with no clear idea of the outcome, and don't pay attention to the "happy ending" that we know is up ahead.... just read it like we live our lives: one day at a time.

Then we are going to see that God, not Joseph, is the hero here. I mean, Joseph tells us this when he says to his brothers, "God meant it for good." But it's so easy to forget as we read through all the ups and downs of Joseph's experiences (and as we live through the ups and downs of our own lives!) that the hand of God is working through each event and each utterance of the people, to produce the result that God has planned. Joseph couldn't see it till he arrived at the end. And we can't see it in our lives, yet, either.
I'm hoping that as we study, we will come face to face with a new appreciation of God's providence over all things. And that this appreciation will serve to help us in our daily lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Prayer requests

Often when we have a family gathering, there's a pause before we fill our plates from the dishes on the countertop and the oven.
We glance at each other, and then at the patriarch of the family.

That's good.
That means that everyone is accustomed to praying, and we are waiting for him to pray, or for him to ask someone else to thank the Lord for the blessings he has showered us with.

Praying as a family is so important.
From blessings before meals to bedtime tuck-ins, and any time there is a worrisome event or situation. It's important for our kids and grandkids to know that we are depending on Him each and every day.
How to pray with our families?
Talk about whatever is bothering any of us, no matter how small it may seem. No problem is too small for Him to know about. Invite Him to reveal His plans and desires for our lives, to show us His purposes.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (I John 5:14-15)
Make God the head of our home. Then expect Him to respond, as we humble ourselves before Him.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 
If you have a prayer request or a praise, let us know in the comments. We will join with you in prayer.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  (Mark 11:24)